This question popped up in my head while watching LOTR, in wich a tree says: going south always feels like going down.

  • $\begingroup$ South-up map orientation (found while google.com/search?q=maps+south+facing+up) $\endgroup$
    – Jan Doggen
    May 7 '16 at 19:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Just a conjecture here. Part of it is how we think of the earth rotating. A counter clockwise rotation is considered positive (see right hand rule). Because the Northern hemisphere rotates counterclockwise around the North Pole and the Southern Hemisphere rotates clockwise around the South Pole, it would make sense for the North Pole to be considered as "up" on a map. $\endgroup$ May 8 '16 at 1:44
  • $\begingroup$ That´s an interesting conjecture! But I don´t think that´s the reason because the right and left hand rule weren´t there yet in early times. $\endgroup$ May 8 '16 at 11:49

Most of our geographic and astronomic terms were developed in pre-history in the northern hemisphere. Even early astronomers noticed that Polaris, the north star, was 'up' in the night sky, so north as 'up' simply became the convention.

  • $\begingroup$ Can it be it has to do with the first (the western world) and the third world? $\endgroup$ May 7 '16 at 23:55
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ North was "up" way before there was a "Western" and a "Third" world. This is irrelevant. I've seen people claim that the north-up thing is some kind of white supremacist Eurocentric perspective. It's not. It's just the way it has always been. $\endgroup$
    – Gimelist
    May 8 '16 at 11:49
  • $\begingroup$ But why has it always been like that? I´m sure that if the place where western thought developed were in the southern hemisphere, we now would have upside-down maps. It seems Natural to me to put the place where the (western kind) maps are made (in the northern hemisphere) on top of the map. $\endgroup$ May 8 '16 at 12:56
  • $\begingroup$ Maps have been oriented that way since at least ancient Greek times, long before concepts such as "Western" world, first vs third world, or even the fact that the Earth is round were around. Of course map makers put themselves into the middle, simply because that's the part of the world they knew. But that's about it. $\endgroup$ Jul 8 '16 at 2:43

There is no good reason. It's simply a convention that someone started a long time ago and that stuck. Like the question whether an hour is divided into 60 minutes and a minute into 60 seconds.

If you go to Australia, you will find plenty of maps for tourists that show Australia at the top and Europe at the bottom.

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ I live in Australia, and I can assure you that almost all maps are oriented with north pointing up. The postcards showing south as up is just a gimmick for parting gullible tourists from their money! $\endgroup$ May 7 '16 at 18:19
  • $\begingroup$ But why making that convention? I suppose there wasn´t a dice thrown. $\endgroup$ May 8 '16 at 12:41
  • $\begingroup$ You might also mention the even earlier T-O maps which are oriented with East going up as an earlier convention that apparently did not stick. $\endgroup$
    – David Cary
    May 10 at 15:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.